Monthly Archives: August 2011

The utopia of the engaged elite

In his final retort to Jay Rosen during a recent online journalism debate at The Economist, Nick Carr tries to throw water on all the clucking that we’re in a golden age of journalism:

“Outside the new-media hothouse, people do not have the luxury of spending their waking hours tweeting, blogging, commenting, or cobbling together a Daily Me from a welter of sites and feeds. They are holding down jobs (or trying to find jobs). They have kids to raise, parents to care for, friends to keep up with, homes to clean. When they have spare time to catch up on the news, they often confront a wasteland. Their local paper has closed or atrophied. The newscasts on their local TV stations seem mainly concerned with murders, traffic jams and thunderstorms. Cable news shows present endless processions of blowhards. America’s once-mighty news magazines are out of business or spectres of their former selves.”

And there’s this:

“I understand how a member of the plugged-in elite would assume the internet has improved journalism. If you spend hours a day consuming news and producing opinions, the net provides you with endless choices, diversions and opportunities for self-expression. For the news junkie, the net is a crack house that dispenses its wares for free. But if you look beyond the elite, you see a citizenry starved of hard, objective reporting. For the typical person, the net’s disruptions have meant not a widening of options but a narrowing of them.”

I’m not totally on board with Carr’s blanket assertion that “net has eroded journalism’s foundations.” And his last sentence deserves a fuller critique than what I’m examining here.

Those building blocks have been under assault for a few decades in the old media world, with corporate excess and poor management far more devastating than any technological developments that have driven down the cost, and value, of content.

While I’m not in the plugged-in elite, I do see the potential for reshaping solid journalism on the web. I agree that Rosen, perched safely in tenured academia, does get carried away — willfully, I think — with his certitudes about new ways of doing the news. It’s easy for him to get excited, since his livelihood doesn’t depend on whether those experiments succeed or not.

Since leaving print behind three years ago, I’ve been involved in a few very limited efforts, most of which never had a chance and in fact never got off the ground. Currently I am making a living with one of the more ambitious projects to date, and this opportunity was not easy to come by after two years without steady employment.

While I remain hopeful about the possibilities — as well as the necessity — for something to work, I also operate with the daily reminder that none of this is guaranteed.